April 25, 2013
I’m spending the week in Walla Walla after serving on the interview panel for Whitman College’s top scholarship. A group of us (faculty and alumni) spent a day interviewing 25 young people to choose those we believe will be the best leaders at Whitman and in their future lives. It was an incredible experience. Since, I’ve been meeting with a few seniors to discuss post graduation plans, and talking with my son and his friends. Again…incredible.
But back to the high school students we interviewed. If these young people are any indication of the caliber of today’s high school students, we are definitely in good hands. Although the ladies might be a bit uncomfortable in their business clothes and their hands a bit clammy when we shook them, their passion became definite as soon as they started talking. Just for starters…
- Founded a nonprofit so her high school friends began to understand even small contributions make a difference
- Violinist who put together a quartet to play during meals at a homeless shelter
- Faced with prejudice in her high school, she formed a group to speak out about racism
- Grew up in foster homes not allowed to read many books we’ve all seen on the censor shelves…so she brought them into the house under her clothes
- An active Girl Scout leader grateful for the program that helped her learn and grow
All of this is on top of stellar academics and more high school activities than you can imagine. For many, they’ve been working for years to help support their families who are committed to their vision but just can’t do so financially.
Then there’s the young woman who will graduate in 24 days with a resolute focus on her future in development and nonprofits. She wants to work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and saw her potential in high school when they named her one of their Millennium Scholars.
My son and his friends are talking about films – classic and current – in a way that is really exhilarating…and at the same time exhausting.
If these kids fulfill even half their plans and dreams, we will be in good hands. But it’s also up to each of us as parents, and as adults who care about society, to help ALL kids succeed. In Alaska, there’s a movement to improve graduation rates and I hope it leads to more students like I’ve seen this week. As adults, we have an obligation to help:
- By talking with kids about their hopes and dreams.
- By helping them map their plans and provide them good input on direction.
- By supporting their goals.
- By caring if they succeed, and listening to their plans.
Young people need adult mentors. I can’t think of much else I do that’s as gratifying.
So, it’s been an inspiring week already. Today my reunion weekend begins so I’m hoping for another kind of incredible.
April 22, 2013
This weekend I’ve been in Walla Walla, Washington interviewing candidates for Whitman’s top scholarship program. More on the absolutely incredible young ladies we met in another post. Today, I want to talk about how a fresh set of eyes can cause you to see things more clearly.
I was enjoying the scrumptious breakfast served at The Maxwell House B&B. I had just taken a picture of my breakfast to share on social media when I started talking with the owner about social media and her website. She’s not comfortable with social media but has been told she needs to do it. So she’s trying but she doesn’t understand why…why she should do it, and what it will get her.
Before she makes any changes, I suggested she answer some questions:
- Why do you want to change your marketing effort?
- What is the primary message you want to convey?
- Who are you talking to?
- What do you want them to do/say after reading?
- How will you know you’ve been successful?
Her website is pretty and succinct but it lacks her personality. We asked her how she happened to open the B&B and our reaction to her story inspired her to look at some changes to her website to better tell her story:
Penny Maxwell Bingham had a dream of one day owning a bed and breakfast in a small college town. It’s really lucky that one day her husband was in Walla Walla when he stumbled upon what is now The Maxwell House B&B. He called her to say he was living her dream. They bought the house without Penny seeing it.
Her husband said there were a few things that needed fixing. That was an understatement as it took Penny nearly a year to bring the house to today’s excellence. She built a front staircase the city and many contractors said wasn’t possible. A 22-year old carpenter showed them all they were wrong.
This is the story of The Maxwell House.
She went on to tell us about the stories she’s heard from her guests. There’s the woman who stayed in the house (before Penny owned it) while her husband was a soldier in Vietnam. She had their first child in the house but he had never seen it. Stories like this will be added to the website as a new tab, instead of as a disconnected blog.
It’s really amazing what a few minutes of time spent focusing on a business with fresh eyes can reveal. It’s also amazing how clearly you can see once you know where you’re going.
Oh, and if you’re ever in Walla Walla, be sure to stay at The Maxwell House B&B. You won’t regret it!
March 4, 2013
Last week, a colleague and I gave a presentation at Whitman College to help students transition to alumni and especially to take advantage of Whitman’s alumni network. As part of the presentation we talked about reputation and what it means for the job search.
“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
In today’s world of 24 hour access to the Internet and searches that can find anything, there’s really no place for double speak/standards. You are what you do, say and act. And…there’s nowhere to hide. Realizing that employers and others you want to impress review personal blogs and social networks means it’s time to focus on where you want to go in life.
So, how do you figure out who you are and who you want to be in 10 years? I almost always start solving problems by answering some questions.
- Who are you?
- What makes you unique?
- What do you believe in?
- Who do you want to be?
- What do you most like doing?
- What do people say you’re good at doing?
- Do you like doing those things?
- What about you can help you achieve those?
- What do you need to learn/do to get there?
- What can’t you live without doing?
These and other questions you add might help you get a framework started. What else would you ask?
Once you’ve answered these questions and built a framework, take a look back and see if there are things you might need to change in your life or things you might wish had ended differently. You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and change.
Google yourself to make sure there aren’t things out there you wish were hidden. Knowing you can only go forward, consider what you can do to make sure those don’t happen again.
Going forward always test your decisions against the answers you gave to the questions above. Always be true to who you want to be. Consistency and persistence are important. If you’re making choices not in keeping with your decisions, you’ll stray from the path you took so much effort to set.
Patience is a virtue.
This is often the hardest step of all. We want to get to the finish line hours – or years – before we really need to get there. We don’t always realize how much we can learn along the way and how the journey might be different as we make choices from what we learn along the way.
And remember today’s world means there is an increasingly blurred line between your professional and your personal one. Have fun with social networking but post thoughtfully. Think about how your post would look in headlines.
How did you figure out your path in life? What advice do you have for new graduates?
September 21, 2011
Last weekend I was in Walla Walla, Washington for the Whitman College Alumni Board meeting. We were basically a group of 13 people (graduates from between 1962 and 2007) from across the country joined by a common experience. A group committed to strengthening ties other alumnus have with the school.
Talk focused on finalizing our five-year strategic plan with a vision to create a place alumnus call “home.” We want to strengthen the bonds Whitties have with each other and the school.
It’s important to know the bonds are already pretty strong. We all realize our college experience is different from the experience many others have in college. Around 50 percent of our alums give financially to the school each year. Many more are involved through their volunteer effort. Many of us started the planning process by asking ourselves questions:
- What do I care most about regarding Whitman?
- Why do I care? After all it’s been more than 30 years!
- Who else cares? Why does that matter to me?
- How can I help those who care?
- What can I do to make more people to care?
By asking fellow alumni these questions, we’ll be able to create a plan that helps strengthen ties with the school. It’s a long-term project we’re excited about and hope is successful.
In thinking about it, these are great questions for communicators to ask when creating community relations plans. When I look at applying these lessons to clients, the same principles and similar questions apply:
- What do employees care most about? Why?
- What are the biggest needs in our community?
- How can we help strengthen the community?
- Is there a way our employees can also help through volunteering?
- What about our customers? Where do they want us to help?
- What can we do to make more people care about this?
The answers to these and other questions help provide a framework from which a targeted community relations plan can be developed. Like many other aspects of communications, without a plan that includes measurable goals you can’t possibly know if you’re truly been successful.
How do you help your clients make sure their community programs are on target and focus in areas they care about. How do you identify organizations that need your client’s help?
~It sounds simple but it’s really not.
September 21, 2010
My son is a high school senior so we’ve spent some time visiting college campuses. He’s looking for a challenging academic program where he feels part of a vibrant on-campus community that likes to have fun while learning.
The visits and his responses made me think about what comprises a community and how it has changed.
- As a child, we played with the other kids in our neighborhood and they became our friends. The furthest we ventured was about 4 blocks up/down the hill. Yet we were a hearty band of about 15 people. We were a tight-knit group who stayed together through high school.
- College changed all that because we “went away” to school and made new friends in a new community. The neighborhood gang turned into the sorority, dorm or major friends. In my case, Whitman was its own community of 1,100 students who connected on many levels – adjusting to being away from home, academic rigors, social challenges of colleges, remoteness of Walla Walla to name a few.
I’m dating myself here but these things all occurred before there were cell phones, or even computers and the Internet like we have today. Our reliance on those near us was critical and we banded together using lifelong bonds. The College – well beyond its wonderful academics – made me who I am today.
The bulk of that is based on the community established at Whitman and nurtured over the years. I contrast my experience with my son’s, even though we’ve tried hard to insure a fairly traditional upbringing.
- My sons went to preschool beginning at 18 months and have friends throughout the city because of it. Many in their core group of friends in elementary school have moved away or live in another part of town. But they still communicate using social media tools or texting.
I just wonder if the bonds and commitment will last. And if they don’t have we lost part of the fabric of our community. Have we lost the reason to help our neighbor because we don’t know them? To help a fellow student because they look different from us?
It was gratifying to have my son discuss the three colleges we visited from a sense of what I believe is true community. Each of the schools is academically strong. The differences are in the intangible and sense of belonging one feels. He wants to go where he feels he belongs, where “everybody knows your name” but also where you’re free to express yourself in a variety of ways. These are his descriptions:
- Just felt kind of dull and boring to me. They didn’t seem to care a lot about each other
- Nice feeling and quiet but they go downtown for their entertainment so don’t seem to hang out together
- Lots of variety and cool stuff going on that I could enjoy. Kids just running in/out of each others’ rooms.
Okay, I’ll admit that the college he enjoyed the most is also my alma mater but I think he’s looking at the right things. He’s recognizing what makes up the fabric of his community. What’s sewn into your life’s fabric? Critical to your community? How can we make sure others understand the importance of community, and that it’s whatever you make of it as long as it’s irreplaceable.
Photo credit: Whitman College